"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward," Matt. 6:5.
Nothing gets more mileage in our age than whenever a Christian stands up for righteousness they are scolded for their imperfection and called a hypocrite. Truly, this is a most deserving charge because we are all sinners and we have all fallen far short of God's glory. But, while this charge may be true in its most general sense , it still fails as a real effective argument against man's sin and depravity in the light of God's holiness and judgment. Speaking for most of the Christians I know, we do not believe that we are completely holy vessels and the perfect embodiment of righteousness on this earth. My sin is ever present before me and I make no pretense of perfection. If Jesus is saying that only perfect people can pray in public and preach righteousness and repentance than we have some major problems! What exactly is Jesus saying here?
First, lets look at the word hypocrite. The sense that Jesus has in mind here is that the person praying(more than likely a scribe or Pharisee per chapter 23) is just playing a part. In the Greek it has in mind an actor, someone who is wearing a mask and concealing his/her identity. You may have seen pictures of the iconic image of Greek theater which show two masks, side by side, one laughing and the other crying both with contorted faces. The hypocrite is someone who is saying something he does not even believe, like he is reading from a script. As a friend said the other day, "They(hypocrites) speak with no intent." So Jesus is telling us that a hypocrite is a phony believer who is acting like a real believer.
So we know who hypocrites are, actors and what they do, play a part, but why do they do it? "That they may be seen by others." Do you ever watch those horrific award shows or reality TV? These are mostly people who want to be seen by others. They love themselves and have copious amounts of self esteem. They are narcissistic to the core. As Christians, we must of all people guard against this. We must make sure that we are humble before God and seek His glory not our own. We must not be seekers of self esteem and want the applause of others even if we have been in labor for the cause of Christ. Do we really labor for the cause of Christ if we are offended if our names aren't mentioned or we don't get a ribbon for our service? I often find my thoughts drifting towards vain glory and I must repent of them or my heart will start to rot. Even our deeds of generosity need to be veiled as Jesus stated in the verses previous to this. How many foundations and charities are named for people and they use their charity as an advertising tool or marketing gimmick.
Finally, what does Jesus say about those, Christian or not, who even do the best of deeds to be seen by men? They have their reward. The actor who gushes over a golden statue(calf): he has his reward. The narcissist who plays the fool in front of the whole world to win some money or fame: they have their reward. The person who professes Christ and does not realize his own depravity and prays for the applause of men: he has his reward and Jesus will say to him, "Away from Me, you worker of lawlessness." The cure for hypocrisy is surrender. We need to walk the narrow road that all prisoners who have lost a battle must walk. A prisoner must never walk along the wide road, he will be roughly disciplined for that. He must walk the narrow road, single file, eyes forward, one step before the other, looking at his Master for his next step.
Live, learn and love the glorious Gospel of our blessed Savior!